Tartan is big news this year. A major exhibition at V&A Dundee has put tartan in the media spotlight and we recently went to check it out. Highly recommended!
All this tartan talk has also inspired us to revisit some of our own patterns of the past, and dream up some new ones as well.
More on that later … but first, what is tartan exactly?
At its most basic, tartan is a checked pattern made up of at least two contrasting colours. In weaving terms it’s normally woven in a 2/2 twill structure, with the alternating colours of warp and weft creating a grid pattern. But tartan moved beyond the loom a long time ago. From shortbread tins to wallpaper and lots more besides, tartan is the ubiquitous symbol of Scottishness.
Tartan at the V&A
The exhibition in Dundee takes ‘a radical new look’ at tartan, and it’s a fascinating visit. Its approach is to see tartan as a cultural phenomenon as much as a textile. Rather than focusing on the relationship between tartan patterns and families or clans, it looks at the wider global, cultural and political context. It examines how tartan has both become an instantly recognisable symbol of Scotland and been adopted by other causes and groups all over the world.
The exhibition unpicks tartan’s contradictions as both a cloth of the establishment and a symbol of subculture. There are some iconic items on show, including Vivienne Westwood’s bondage trousers and garments from Alexander McQueen’s controversial 1995 ‘Highland Rape’ collection, evoking the tragic history of the Highlands.
Themes such as ‘Tartan and Identify’ and ‘Tartan and Power’ cut across time and place – so you can find fragments of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s plaid alongside Bay City Rollers trousers, football scarves and Jackie Stewart’s racing helmet.
Although there are thousands of tartans in existence it seems there’s never a shortage of new patterns. And tartan is constantly being reinvented for new needs and desires. We were particularly taken by the tartan Xbox cover! It was created by kiltmaking supremos Gordon Nicholson who we have had the pleasure of collaborating with in the past.
Back in the weaving shed …
After our Dundee tartan immersion and back on the croft, it was time to get creative. We’ve started working on an exciting new Glendale tartan – more to be revealed on that soon. We also decided to revisit our Xanthoria tartan throws, making the design a bit more elaborate and compatible with two additional colour themes.
Here’s our new interpretation of an old favourite: lichen on the rocks…
… and a short video of us weaving the throws.
Our second colourway is inspired by a view of Skye’s shoreline from below the water surface. The bright green colour evokes a delicate algae called sea lettuce. It looks amazing when it sways in the water with rays of sunshine lighting it up from above.
Our third colourway adds another layer of Scottishness – it’s inspired by the thistle.
We hope you have enjoyed this little tartan exploration as much as we have. The V&A exhibition continues in Dundee until January 2024, and our tartan throws are due in the online shop end of July. We suggest you don’t miss either!
Sign up to our newsletter for more tartan updates.